How do Plants Cope with Water Stress?

It is evident from the above discussion that water stress has serious consequences on the health of a plant. As such, plants have adapted several ways to mitigate some of the challenges faced during situations of water stress. In some plants, the level of xanthophyll increases during water stress. This pigment has a protective role in plants and also reduces the accumulation of harmful ROS. Several new proteins are synthesized by plants as a response to water stress, such as heat shock proteins or HSPs, late embryogenesis abundant (LEA), dehydrins, enzymes that cause detoxification like CAT, SOD, osmoprotectants, and DREBS, or dehydration-responsive transcription factors. Moreover, other coping mechanisms include increased resistance of stomata, reduced conductance by stomata, extensive root system development, development of water storage organs, reduction in water flux, activation of a system of antioxidants, and many others.

Water stress can have various physiological, biochemical, and morphological effects on the plant. At its extreme, water stress can cause dehydration and death in the plant. The most important effects of water stress on plants are as follows:

● This leads to the reduction in the water potential and turgor of the plant cell.

● Brings about the elevation in the concentration of solutes in the extracellular matrix as well as the cytosol.

● Causes the decrease in the enlargement of cells.

● Leads to the inhibition of growth and failure in reproduction.

● Leads to abscisic acid (ABA) as well as osmolytes (e.g. proline, which is compatible with it) accumulation, which leads to wilting of the plant

● The reactive oxygen species or ROS and other harmful radical scavengers like glutathione and ascorbate are overproduced, further aggravating the adversity faced by the plants.

● Can lead to the closure of the stomata.

● Causes the subsequent decrease of gaseous exchange due to the stomatal closure.

● Impairment of necessary metabolites.

● This leads to a decrease in the rate of transpiration.

● Can retard the process of carbon assimilation and lowers the rate of photosynthesis.

● Water stress can reduce the uptake of minerals from the soil and their subsequent transportation.

● Can bring about a decrease in the rate of metabolism.

● The reduced rate of metabolism leads to a reduction in the area of a leaf and brings about changes in the capacity of partitioning assimilates within the organs.

● Shrinkage of leaves can occur.

● Leaf surface cutinization can take place.

● Can cause the early induction of senescence in plants.

● Increase in the ratio of root to shoot.

● Reduction in the biomass of the plants can occur.

● Dramatic decrease of {\rm{C}}{{\rm{a}}^{{\rm{2 + }}}}Ca
ions is water-stressed plants.

● This leads to a decrease in the amount of the RubisCO enzyme.

● Can cause a decrease in the chlorophyll content of the leaves since water stress leads to the inhibition of their synthesis.

● It induces changes in the plasticity of plant cell walls.

● Can alter the ion distribution in the plant cell and thereby disturbs cellular homeostasis.

● Water stress inhibits the electron transport reactions during the light phase of photosynthesis.

● Reduces the level of ATP within the chloroplasts.

● The gene expression pattern in a plant is changed due to water stress. A reduction in protein synthesis is usually observed.

● Can lead to the peroxidation of lipids.

● This leads to a slower rate or retardation of cell expansion.

● Overall growth retardation in the plant is seen.


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